“I can’t code. And I think the drones are coming for our young.”
That was how I began a talk to a group of PhD students about social media on Monday: PGR Jan 16. Of course, this was for dramatic effect (but those drones do have some beady eyes on them). I use technology for my academic career when it suits me and when it makes things easier. But, I am not what you might call an Academic Tech Hipster (ATH): I do not always know the latest platforms or have a massive clue what goes on underneath the bonnet of a lot of sites to produce metadata.
At this event, I spoke about how I had managed to use different sites to get my work out there when I had lived in places that were not well connected, often with very limited or no funds to travel. If you are in a similar position, whether a late stage doctoral student or in precarious employment, I suggest that you use every tool at your disposal. I remember the uncertainty of the Hunger Games-style winnowing process.
However, if you are like me and now have a good job you are happy in, it might be time to reconsider the ways in which your participate in certain kinds of platforms. I’m not a hair-shirted ascetic who makes her own yoghurt, but we need to use the same consideration with our intellectual labour as we make in our consumer choices. There might be times when a certain mode of transmission is all we have (the equivalent of there only being a chain coffee shop in a train station) but when there are options, it is time to educate yourself about the approach to knowledge that you are perpetuating.
On Wednesday evening I flicked through Twitter absent-mindedly and saw this. The discomfort that had been bubbling in me over the way this site was funded and the fact that so many academics were uploading their work, copyright bedamned, turned into umbrage. Now, I had been an active user in my time (feeling that narcissistic pride of being top 0.5-3% of academics and seeing hits across the world), uploading everything from conference abstracts to PowerPoints. But bringing cash into peer-review turned my discomfort into indignation, and I deleted my account, spawning the hashtag #DeleteAcademiaEdu
My decision was almost immediately confirmed by staff from the site and a boatload of ATHs telling me why I was wrong and it was fine for me with my privilege to work outside their behemoth. But I don’t believe in encouraging ECR academics to give away their hard work for free to a site like this. I can’t see a site where people pay to have their work recommended be the academic gold standard when an ECR is sitting in front of a tough interview panel.
We still have a ton of problems in academic publishing: the thought of the sums paid by libraries to the big publishing houses makes me ill. Paying for Open Access is a shame and a disgrace. But, going back to those of us who work in the British system in particular, we want to get and keep our jobs so we can change the system and that means top-quality publications. I recommend Martin Eve’s book, which is itself Open Access, as a good primer to some of the issues involved.
So what now? Early Career folks: you have a pass on this, and I wish you nothing but solidarity and the best of luck. I will buy you a pint or a small cake next time I see you. For everyone else: we need to first work out what made this site so seductive and think what we actually used it for. Here are some alternatives:
- Hosting Publications: Instead, get friendly with your institutional repository. Now, as REF2020/1 is underway, most of our workplaces are using this to see the goods for the exercise but I don’t think yours will stop you putting other material up there and setting an appropriate embargo. Make friends with the person in your library charged with enforcing the Open Access policies or check individual journals here.
- CVs and other documents such as CFPs: Set up a cheap and cheerful blog site (mine is exhibit A: remember I can’t code and I’m afraid of drones). You’ll get shortlinks, viewing metrics, all that jazz. Most of us used that site a lot because it often takes a while to update institutional sites and it was easy to use. A quick blog can be the same: no need to code and things updated in the blink on an eye.
Systemic change needs to happen in academic publishing so that we can have robust, ethical peer review coupled with Open Access. We need the best journals accessible to everyone, with a sustainable funding model. In the meantime, find the way of being online that agrees with your values as an academic.